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I often get messages from aspiring students who want to become Psychologists. They request guidance on how to enter the field and often ask “How do you become a Psychologist?”.
 
I recently read an article by Sine Zungu on how she became a Psychologist and inspiration struck! I realised that a blog post could reach a greater audience than single responses. So, I decided to compile a series of blog posts consisting of the questions I answer most often. Each week I will deal with one or two questions. You are welcome to contact me with more questions.
 
Let’s get started, this first post deals with the general road towards becoming a Psychologist and it is focussed on the question, “How do you become a Psychologist?”.

So, how do you become a Psychologist?

The road to becoming a Psychologist is a long and arduous one. You need to complete an accredited Masters degree to practice as a Psychologist. To gain acceptance into a Masters program, you need an Honours degree in Psychology. To get into an Honours programme, you need an undergraduate degree with all the Psychology modules up to a third-year level.
 
Let’s look at each of these steps in a bit more detail:

Step 1: Get an undergraduate degree

You can choose any undergraduate degree as long as you complete all the Psychology modules up to third-year level. Depending on your choice, this may take between 3 and 4 years. An undergraduate degree should equip you with foundational academic training. You will need this knowledge to complete your post-graduate studies.
 
My advice is to choose a degree with subjects that gives you a broad foundation in various fields. Also, something that gives you a solid backup plan in case you do not get to Honours or Masters level. Consider taking some subjects that may not appear relevant to psychology. Some of these might help you in practice:
  • Accounting to balance your practice books
  • Marketing to learn how to advertise your services
  • Physiology to understand the interaction between the body and the mind
  • Genetics to understand hereditary conditions
  • Languages – the more languages you speak, the wider the scope of your clientele
  • Philosophy to understand different viewpoints and belief systems
Watch out not to overload yourself with subjects. You will need excellent marks for your psychology modules to gain acceptance into an Honours programme.

Step 2: Get an Honours degree in Psychology

An Honours degree focusses on specialised theoretical training. This to prepare you for Masters training.
 
Some universities only provide purely academic modules. Other universities add a practical component. The practical component may allow you to register as a Counsellor with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. It is important to investigate this before you enroll for a programme. Most honours programs are one year full-time or two years part-time.

Step 3: Get a Master’s degree in a specific field of Psychology

And then comes the process of Masters selection. The Masters training programs teach you the intricate skills required to work as a Psychologist. The programs are intensive and, as such, each university only selects between 6 and 12 students per year. The selection process may include:
  • applications forms
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • individual interviews
  • panel interviews
  • group tasks
  • written assignments.
If you manage to secure a slot in a Masters program, you will need to complete:
  • one or two years of full-time academic and practical training
  • a research dissertation

Step 4: Complete an Internship

On the completion of your academic training, you need to complete a 12-month internship. Here you will work under the supervision and training of experienced Psychologists. This needs to be an internship in the field of psychology you completed your Masters program in. It also needs to be an HPCSA accredited programme.

Step 5: Complete Community Service year

After you have completed your internship and thesis, you are a qualified Psychologist. You may, however, also need to complete a Community Service year before you can register as an independent practitioner with the HPCSA. This will depend on which type of Psychology you specialised in.
During your Community Service year (or even earlier if you would like to), you will also need to write the Ethics Board Exam with the HPCSA.
 
Best case scenario, the entire process will take you at least 7 years. In my experience, it often takes even longer.
 
My next blog post will be a personal reflection on my road to train as a Psychologist and how long it took me to get here.
 
You are welcome to contact me if you would like to ask more questions.